September 12, 2012
Special to The Review from Tonia Martin, RN, BSN, Infection Preventionist
As the summer begins to wind down, West Nile Virus moves into its peak season. This year there have been increased reports of virus activity in birds, mosquitoes, and humans across the US. Ohio has had 16 human cases to date. This increase is due in part to weather, the number of birds carrying the virus, the number of mosquitoes actively spreading the virus from birds to humans through mosquito bites, and the human behaviors that put individuals at greater risk of exposure. Researchers believe mosquitoes carry the highest percentage of the virus from late summer (July) through early fall (September).
The following information is intended to help you stay informed and provide ways to prevent you and your loved ones from getting West Nile Virus.
It is not possible to catch the virus by touching or kissing an individual who is infected, by coming in contact with a health-care provider who has treated a patient with the disease, or from contact with household pets. On very rare occasions, West Nile Virus has been transferred from mother to child through pregnancy and breastfeeding or through infected blood transfusion or organ transplant (in the US, screening procedures prevents transmission through blood or organs).
You are at greater risk of getting West Nile Virus if you live in an area where it has been detected and/or spend an increased amount of time outdoors during prime mosquito activity, such as at dawn or dusk. Individuals over 50 years old and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of developing severe illness due to WNV.
Symptoms usually occur three days to two weeks after being bitten; however most people who are infected will have no signs or symptoms. Some individuals may develop a mild infection called West Nile fever. Common signs and symptoms of West Nile fever may include: fever, headache, body aches, fatigue, skin rash, swollen lymph glands and eye pain. Symptoms typically go away within a few days and do not require medical attention.
In rare cases, a person may develop serious neurological infections as a result of exposure to West Nile Virus. Such infections may lead to inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or of the brain, spinal cord and surrounding membranes (meningoencephalitis). Inflammation of the spinal cord (West Nile poliomyelitis or acute flaccid paralysis), can result in a sudden weakness in arms, legs or breathing muscles.
Signs and symptoms of these serious diseases may include: high fever (above 102°F), severe headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks and neurological effects may be permanent. Contact your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
The best way to protect you and your loved ones from West Nile Virus is to take measures to prevent mosquito bites. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend taking the following steps:
- When outdoors, use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient, such as Deet.
- Mosquitoes tend to be most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to wear long sleeves and pants or consider staying indoors during these hours.
- Check to insure you have good screens (properly fitted without holes in mesh) on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
- Get rid of mosquito breeding sites. Empty standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.
Sources also include: